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March 2, 2007Leonard Hamilton and his Florida State basketball players haven't exactly spent the last few weeks insulated from the rest of the college basketball world.
They all know what's at stake when the Seminoles play at Miami on Saturday afternoon. They know a loss ends any shot -- no matter how slim -- they have at earning at at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
And they know that everyone else seems to have an opinion on whether or not they belong in the tourney.
But that doesn't mean they are consumed by bracket talk.
"I'm listening, but I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to the scenarios that are playing out," Hamilton said. "I know it really doesn't matter if you start anticipating this or hoping for this. Just play. That's all you can do."
The Seminoles get a chance on Saturday afternoon to control the only thing they can control at this point -- a road game at Miami represents FSU's final regular-season game. A win would mark the second consecutive year the Seminoles finished with fewer than 10 losses in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The only time this program could boast about that came in FSU's first two years in the ACC, when guys like Sam Cassell, Bob Sura, Charlie Ward, Doug Edwards and Rodney Dobard were running the court.
But the focus for FSU is squarely on winning to keep alive its NCAA tournament hopes. Though the chances may appear slim, the Seminoles still have a shot.
With a 17-11 record (6-9 in ACC play), conventional wisdom is that the Seminoles have to win the game at Miami and then score two wins in the ACC tournament next week to be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. Even that may not be enough, but that scenario is something that players and coaches are clinging to at this point.
"We know what's out there," FSU freshman forward Ryan Reid said. "We have to win this game if we want to be in the tournament. There are also rumors that we have to win two games in the ACC tournament. This game is right there for us. We have to go out and take it."
FSU may get a lift with the possible return of sophomore point guard Toney Douglas, who has missed the last five games because of a broken bone on his right (shooting) hand. Douglas took part in passing and dribbling drills this week and said on Thursday that his return to the lineup will be a game-time decision.
"Every day I am doing a little something better than I was the day before so that is progress," Douglas said. "I am just going to keep making progress and see what happens."
With a healthy Douglas as the starter, the Seminoles were 17-7 overall and 5-5 in ACC play. He broke the bone in his right hand in the second half of the loss at Clemson and FSU lost its next four games without him in the lineup.
Now, the Seminoles have to find a way to knock off a Miami team that has been playing better basketball since the last time the two teams met. FSU defeated the Hurricanes 86-67 in the previous meeting in a game it led by as many as 30 points midway through the second half.
But Hamilton said he's seen a different Miami team on film this week.
"Miami went on the road [Wednesday] night and played very, very well at Clemson," Hamilton said. "They've played better basketball since the last time we played them. They beat a very good Virginia team. They played well against Boston College. That game was 60-60 with 5 minutes to go. This is going to be another challenge."
The bigger challenge may be keeping FSU's players focused on winning this game and not getting caught up in the NCAA tournament drama.
The Seminoles have both positives (key wins over Florida and Duke; strong strength of schedule) and negatives (losing record in league play, only one road win in conference) contributing to their postseason prospects.
Junior guard Ralph Mims said he's trying to tune out what is being said and written in daily tournament projections.
"I try not to get into that," Mims said. "It is what it is. That is too much thinking for me, trying to guess who will go here and guess who will go there. I just let the chips fall where they may."